Mary Wood ~ The Orphanage Girls
Ruth dares to dream of another life – far away from the horrors within the walls of Bethnal Green’s infamous orphanage. Luckily she has her friends, Amy and Ellen – but she can’t keep them safe, and the suffering is only getting worse. Surely there must be a way out?
But when Ruth breaks free from the shackles of confinement, hoping to make a new life for herself, she finds that life can be just as tough on the outside.
Bett keeps order in this unruly part of the East End – and takes Ruth under her wing alongside orphanage escapee Robbie. But it is Rebekah, a kindly woman, who offers them a home – something neither have ever known. Yet even these two stalwart women cannot protect them when the police learn of an orphan on the run. It is then that Ruth must do everything in her power to hide.
Her life – and those of the friends she left behind at the orphanage – depends on it.
If one were to judge this book by its cover, one might expect a saccharine tale of an orphan finding their family.
However, this book is much, much darker. While there is hope, friendship and courage the majority of the book is dedicated to the real horrors of Victorian London.
As with most tales of orphans, our heroine Ruth tries to do her best for the other girls, despite the hunger and abuse they all face. Although much of this is hinted at, we really feel the children’s sense of despair.
There are a lot of characters. At times it feels as though there are too many, as Ruth’s friends Amy and Ellen are all but forgotten by the end of the book. Others become more significant as time goes by.
That said, in the second half of the book the characters start to work well together – they’re so rich it’s hard not to be invested. Rebekah, Hettie and Abraham all have their own struggles but the wide variety in backgrounds provides an interesting insight into Victorian society.
There’s also a lot going on. We have child abuse, racism, rape, suicide, forbidden love, violence and more… all in what is a relatively short book.
While a few elements of the plot could have been removed, overall it works and is really enjoyable. Characters are rich and their journey to overcome the various obstacles that they face is heartwarming and also heartbreaking.
However, the word ‘mate’ is used far too often (featuring in pretty much every piece of dialogue) and is really irritating. Had I not been invested in the story, I probably would have given up on the book, as it really affected my overall enjoyment of the story.
As a whole it’s a good read and the darker themes a welcome change; one incident in particular is quite shocking and I’m still not fully recovered!
Book from Pan Macmillan as part of Random Things Tours. Opinions my own.